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Vampires and Demons
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From the beginning of time there have been gods and goddesses both light and dark. The dark ones most often symbolised sickness, disease, death and natural disaster. Over time they lost their place in the divine pantheons. Fallen to the depths of the Earth, they were renamed monsters and demons.
One of the most popular and eternal demonic monsters is the vampire, a shapeshifting bloodsucker said to drain the blood from its victim.
The First Vampires
Although popularised in fiction in the 1800s, stories of vampires have existed since the earliest civilisations. There are tales of vampiric demons in the myths and legends of Mesopotamia, where they were almost exclusively seen as the Lilitu-demonic women who drank the blood of infants.
The Lilitu evolved from the Sumerian storm goddess of the same name who was originally believed to reign over natural disasters, illness, disease and death. She was later adopted into the early Hebrew texts as Lilith, Adam's first wife.
Many Christians ignore the story of Lilith, believing that Eve, made from Adam's rib, was the first female in Christian lore. But it was Lilith, made from dust and dirt just as Adam was and therefore his equal, who was actually created first.
Lilith refused to submit to Adam's will and, fed up with his demands for her obedience, she left him, retreating to a cave on the edges of the Garden of Eden. There she transformed back into her original Sumerian manifestation of a demoness. It is said in the ancient Sumerian and Hebrew texts that she mothered the Neophyte, black angels who spawned the first witches. In the original Hebrew, Arabic and Persian versions of Lilith she is said to suck the blood of any who encountered her.
As well as being one of the first demonic monsters ever recorded, she is also often cited as the mother of vampires and the beginning of the vampire legends.
Descending from the Lilitu are the Striga of Ancient Greece. This new iteration lost their connection to the goddess and were simply demonic vampire women who transformed themselves into ravenous birds to prey on the blood of children and young men.
The Striga formed the basis of the Eastern European vampire witches, the Strigoi. Written about in the early Middle Ages, these shapeshifting vampire women also preyed on children and could transform themselves into flying insects.
Penanggalan and Manananggal
Asia, too, has a tradition of blood-sucking women. Two of the strangest creatures in vampire mythology come fromSouth-East Asia, their stories ranging across Malaysia, Borneo, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam.
The Penanggalan appears as an attractive, ordinary woman by day; but at night her head disengages from her body and flies through the skies looking for victims, her entrails dragging behind her.
Penanggalan delight in terrifying people and she is rumoured to eat newborn babies in their cradles - if she can find them.
One way to identify a Penanggalan in her intact form is her strong smell of vinegar, because she must clean her dangling entrails with this every morning before stuffing them back into her body.
Similar to the Penanggalan is the Manananggal, another female vampire who preys on pregnant women and uses her tongue to suck the blood of their unborn babies.
Children born with facial deformities are said to have been victims of a Manananggal attack.
While the Penanggalan separates from the neck down, the Manananggal achieves the ability to fly through the air by separating at the waist.
Once separated, she is able to unfurl large bat wings from her shoulder blades and can fly across the country searching for victims, while her bottom half stands patiently awaiting her return.
This creates the only real weakness for the creature, who can be killed if the bottom half is covered with salt, garlic or ashes.
The origins of the Penanggalan and Manananggal vary depending on legend, but the most popular story of the Penanggalan is that she was just an ordinary woman until one day she suffered a shock so great it made her head pop off her shoulders. From that time on she had the ability to remove her head and entrails.
In Thailand and Cambodia similar entities called the Krasue or Ahp are said to be able to disconnect their heads and torsos as a result of abusing black magic.
Belief in the Penanggalan is intensely strong in Malaysia, and rituals for protection are frequently enacted for pregnant women or in households with newborns. One such ritual suggests surrounding the outer border of the dwelling with thorny branches, which will enmesh the dragging entrails and prevent the demon from gaining entry into the house.
The Penanggalan and the Manananggal can create others of their kind by getting human women to ingest their saliva. This is usually achieved through offering a tainted glass of water to an unwitting victim while the creature is in her humanoid form.
In Africa the vampire is more closely associated with blood-sucking insects such as leeches or mosquitoes. The Adze, which takes the form of a firefly to seek out its victims, sucks their blood while they sleep. The bite of the Adze is said to cause sickness, and if the victim lives they become a witch possessed by the Adze's spirit. This story is probably a traditional explanation for malarial outbreaks.
The people of Ghana and Togo believe an Adze can only be killed in its human form and say that if you capture an Adze firefly it will revert to its human appearance.
Another African vampire legend concerns the Ranganga, a vampire from Madagascar who only attacks nobles, feeding off their blood and, quite unexpectedly, their toenails. This is a nice reversal of the aristocratic vampire leeching off the poor.
Dracula and the Rise of the Romantic Vampire
The modern Western version of the vampire owes more to the book Dracula, written by Irish writer Bram Stoker, than to any vampire of Asian, African or European folklore.
In his horror classic Stoker writes about the Romanian Count Dracula, who embarks on a journey to England where he preys upon the innocent people of Whitby and London. He has a particular fondness for beautiful, young women, specifically the lovely Mina Harker and her vibrant friend Lucy Westenra.
When Lucy starts to sicken and then dies of a mysterious disease, only to return as a blood-hungry vampire, her friends and suitors soon realise that the Count is a master vampire intent on possessing Lucy and Mina as his brides. Knowing that Mina will soon suffer the same fate as Lucy, the book's heroes, aided by vampire hunter Van Helsing, seek out the Count.
In the book, Dracula is killed by the vengeful men, although his death is fairly poorly described. What we do know is that he is stabbed in the heart with a knife. The concepts of killing a vampire with a stake or by using garlic were later elements brought over from earlier European vampire mythologies.
Origins of Dracula
Count Dracula is certainly connected to the strong history of vampire legends from Eastern Europe and is often linked to Vlad the Impaler, a real Romanian ruler who was known as Dracul and lived in the Castle Dracula. But the story itself has a more English sensibility and builds on the English modern vampire first introduced in a lesser known vampire story published in 1817.
The Vampyre by Dr John Polidori was the first vampire story that rejected the shambling animated corpse or peasantwitch woman of Slavic myth and cast the vampire as an erudite, suave and seductive aristocrat. Polidori's vampyre was based on the doctor's friend and patient, Lord Byron, the same famous poet who had been present when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.
Byron, a well-known writer of highly romanticised poetry, was the perfect template for Polidori's vampire. The vampire itself a metaphor of how the excesses and decadence of the wealthy drained the life from the poor.
Polidori was probably also inspired by Byron's poems. The poet used the metaphor of a vampire draining the life from young women as a euphemism for both rape and the life-draining nature of obsessive love and grief.
The main storyline
of Dracula follows a similar melodramatic narrative as Byron's romantic poems- the overly romantic foreigner setting out to seduce and drain the life from the wayward Lucy and the faithful Mina.
Written in 1897, Dracula was far less poetic than Polidori's earlier work and fairly unoriginal, being the fourth novel to feature a vampire villain and the twenty-eighth work of literature to feature a vampire character since The Vampyre. Yet Stoker's story set alight the public's obsession with vampire tales and truly established them as a powerful, deadly and seductive force of nature.
Real blood-thirsty killers, premature burials and the common occurrence of plagues and wasting diseases added credence to vampire legends. Lacking a basic understanding of microbes, viruses or cancers, earlier peoples could quite legitimately think that such diseases had a supernatural cause.
One particularly strange disease credited with contributing to the vampire myth is the rare condition called porphyria. This genetic disorder leaves sufferers unable to tolerate sunlight, causes their gums to recede making their teeth look more prominent and fang like, and makes any expelled bodily waste look a lot like undigested blood.
Although these symptoms may seem, on the surface, to provide a feasible explanation for the key characteristics of the vampire, this condition is extremely rare. Even if one accounts for small groups of people with genetic history of this illness, it is unlikely that such an uncommon disease would account for such a highly popular mythology.
Another theory is that rabies, a disease spread through the bite of infected animals such as rats, dogs and bats, fuelled the vampire legends. When a person contracts rabies they can become quite aggressive, even feral, foam at the mouth and suffer from unquenchable thirst. These could certainly make someone look and act quite monstrous.
However, the truth is that the main origin of the vampire lies in our own fears concerning death, disease and later the ability of others to drain away our wealth, health and happiness.
Vampires are one of the most enduring and universal of all the great monsters. Much of this has to do with the strongly held belief that vampires can hide in plain sight, and therefore may be walking among us.
To prove this point there have been many accounts of real-life vampires documented throughout Europe from medieval times to the modern day.
The Immortal Elizabeth Bathory
As with the fictional vampire tales, one of the worst real vampire stories concerns an evil woman, the Romanian Countess, Elizabeth Bathory. The real life cousin of Dracula inspiration Vlad the Impaler.
Bathory was renowned for her beauty and as time went on rumours of her unnatural youth started to circulate among her servants and then the people of the surrounding Romanian villages.
Young girls had been known to disappear from these villages, but being poor and subservient, there was little their families could do to investigate the loss of their daughters. It was not until high-born young ladies started to also disappear that suspicion started to fall on the Countess.
When the castle was raided by a neighbouring army, a torture chamber was uncovered. In it were various apparatus designed to drain the blood of the young girls, as well as bloodless corpses of the girls themselves rotting in the dungeons.
Bathory had been using the blood of the virgin girls to bathe in, believing it had magical properties that would keep her forever young.
Because of her noble birth, Bathory was not executed for her crimes. Instead she was walled up in a solitary cell in her castle, where she stayed imprisoned until her death at the age of fifty-four.
According to reports at the time of her death she looked many years younger than her actual age, so perhaps the blood of virgins may have some fountain of youth properties after all.
The Vampires of Serbia
In Serbia during the seventeenth century CE there were reports of a strange wasting sickness that resulted in the death of nine people. The victims had claimed they were being visited by a man named Peter Plogojowitz, who came to their homes and drained their blood. Strange as these reports sounded, even stranger was the fact that Plogojowitz had died and been buried ten weeks before these reports were made.
Plogojowitz's wife and son also claimed that his corpse visited them in their house, demanding food and a new pair of shoes.
The villagers insisted that the local army unearth Plogojowitz's grave. When they eventually exhumed the body they reported that Peter was lying with his eyes open, skeletal thin, but breathing and staring up at them with hateful wrath. The soldiers rammed a stake in his heart and his body immediately burst into flames.
Plogojowitz was not the only Serbian to be accused of vampirism. In the 1700s another case was reported, this timeconcerning a seemingly well-liked ex-military man, Arnold Paole.
Arnold claimed that while in Turkey fighting the Ottomans he was attacked by a vampire, who he dispatched with his sword. For some inexplicable reason he ate the earth from the vampire's grave and then, again for no apparent reason, bathed in the blood of the decapitated vampire.
On return to his village, his family and friends reported that the previously happy and kind-hearted Paole was a changed man, now hard and cruel. Stories of his encounter with the vampire spread, and many ascribed his new personality to this, although it is possible he was simply suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his experiences during the conflict.
Paole died a few weeks after his return and there were immediate reports of his corpse walking throughout fields and the village. All those who claimed to have seen the apparition died of mysterious circumstances soon after and the local priest became convinced Paole's corpse was the culprit. Leading a group of townspeople to the grave, the priest dug up the man's body, which was said to be fresh and healthy despite having been buried over a month previously.
The townspeople burnt the body and all reports of the vampire ceased.
It is tempting to believe that vampires are only found in the past, skulking about old castles and terrorising illiterate Romanian peasants. But according to one recent study there have been more sightings of vampires in Great Britain over the last hundred years than in the history of all of Eastern Europe.
Paranormal investigator The Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe undertook the study of unexplained and paranormal activity over Britain and based his results on documented eye-witness, police and historical accounts.
According to the research there have been 206 reported encounters with vampires in Britain since 1915.
Reports include a vampire in Birmingham in 2005 who attacked a number of people in a small town, biting their necks and attempting to drink their blood.
The vampire was confronted when it randomly attacked a passer-by in the street. Witnesses told police that they were unable to detain the attacker because he had 'unusual strength and fought off the crowd to escape'.
In 1958 in Glasgow, Scotland, reports of a vampire attacking and murdering children became so prevalent that over one hundred school children organised a vampire hunting party in local graveyards to track down the killer. They found nothing and police investigations confirmed that there were in fact no actual cases of missing children. The whole thing was simply hysteria created by a vampire comic that was popular with the children at the time.
Less easy to explain is the vampire who is said to have lurked around the Cumbrian village of Croglin in North-East England just after the English Civil War. There is documented evidence that young girls in the village were attacked by a foul-smelling man who forced them onto the ground and bit them.
One victim, a Miss Cranswell, was attacked in her bedroom and on hearing her cries her two brothers came in and chased the attacker from her room. A few days later the man reappeared in the girl's room and this time the brothers managed to shoot the intruder in the leg.
They reported that despite his injury he moved with unusual speed towards the local cemetery.
A group of villagers searched the cemetery the next day and found a number of unearthed, empty coffins strewn around. Only one coffin was undisturbed and when opened they found a shrivelled but recognisable man, who the brothers quickly identified as Miss Cranswell's attacker. The man was long dead but strangely had a fresh bullet wound in his left leg.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Monsters and Creatures"
Copyright © 2018 Gabiann Marin.
Excerpted by permission of Rockpool Publishing Pty Ltd.
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Table of Contents
1. Vampires and Demons,
2. Frankenstein's Creature and the Living Dead,
3. Werewolves and the Beasts Within,
4. Unicorns and Night Mares,
5. Chimera and Fantastical Beasts,
6. Mermaids and Mysteries of the Deep,
7. There be Dragons!,
8. Mythical Birds and Other Flights of Fancy,
References and Further Reading,